For the foreseeable future, cars will be able to communicate wirelessly with transportation infrastructure, a concept known in the mobile and automotive industries as “cellular vehicle-to-everything” (C-V2X) communications. Today, the U.S. government began allocating radio spectrum for this purpose with a proposal by FCC Chairman Ajit Pai, who wants to allow C-V2X systems and unlicensed Wi-Fi devices to use the 5.9GHz band.
Pai’s suggestion is simple: divide 75MHz of existing bandwidth into two or three parts, with the upper 20MHz for C-V2X, the lower 45MHz for unlicensed uses like Wi-Fi, and the remaining 10MHz for C-V2X – V2X or DSRC, short for Dedicated Short-Range Communication. DSRC is an obscure traffic communication technology that is an incumbent user of the 5.9GHz band despite little progress over the past 20 years.
“After 20 years, these primary airwaves have been largely unused, and it’s time for the FCC to revisit the 5.9GHz band,” Pai said, noting that while the FCC is committed to transportation safety, it is reluctant to make it possible When doing better, keep the spectrum underutilized. “The Commission will no longer tolerate automotive safety and spectrum allocation policies that do not deliver significant results for American consumers. We are focused on forward-looking spectrum policies to make our transportation network safer and more efficient – including policies in the 5.9GHz band. “
While it might not make much sense to allocate extra bandwidth for Wi-Fi in a vacuum, there is already an adjacent 125MHz of 5GHz spectrum allocated for Wi-Fi, which will increase to 170MHz after the change. Routers can use the extra Wi-Fi spectrum to provide better home and office wireless service, while C-V2X and other transportation systems can take advantage of the remaining balance.
Over the past two years, the FCC has been aggressively reallocating recreational spectrum for 5G and Wi-Fi purposes through a series of moves that threaten to displace traditional users. In each case (usually convincingly) the Commission held that previous spectrum allocations would not meet modern real-world needs and that new licensed or unlicensed uses would bring greater public interest. As a result, sub-6GHz spectrum previously allocated for educational television or naval use, as well as millimeter-wave spectrum reserved for satellite broadcasting, has been opened up to 5G cellular devices, sometimes with sharing agreements.
One of the plan’s main backers, Qualcomm, was quick to praise Pai’s proposal. “Qualcomm is very pleased with FCC Chairman Pai’s proposal to allocate a 20 MHz cap of 5.9GHz for C-V2X,” said Dean Brenner, Qualcomm’s senior vice president of spectrum strategy and technology. “This visionary FCC proposal will allow us to bring the enormous, unparalleled safety benefits of C-V2X to American drivers, passengers and pedestrians. We look forward to working with the FCC and all other stakeholders to maximize the A fast, broad way to broadcast C-V2X.”
As with all matters of the FCC, Pai’s proposal is neither a law nor a final decision before the FCC votes, but the chairman and his Republican allies are usually in lockstep, and they have a committee majority and are therefore likely to be approved. The FCC will first vote on Dec. 12 to solicit public comments on the proposal, and then (assuming no comments change the commissioner’s mind) vote sometime in 2020 to reallocate the 5.9GHz spectrum for these purposes.
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